Washington, DC – Congressman Ike Skelton (D-MO), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, stated today that the Missouri National Guard will assume a new role in Afghanistan to develop agribusiness in that country.  The Afghanistan Agribusiness Development Team will be composed of Missouri National Guard members who have expertise in agriculture.  

   “I am so proud of the Missouri National Guard, assuming this mission on agribusiness development in Afghanistan.  One of the great needs in the country is to develop the agriculture potential for that nation,” said Skelton after meeting with the Director of the Army National Guard, Lieutenant General Clyde Vaughn. 
   “Many members of the Missouri National Guard have years of experience as well as advanced degrees in agriculture-related fields, and it only makes sense to harness these talents to make life better for the Afghan people and to undermine the Taliban and Al Qaeda terrorists operating there,” said Skelton. 

   “As I’ve emphasized for some time now, Afghanistan must be our number one priority and the central focus in the war against terrorism.  Revitalizing Afghanistan’s agricultural sector is critical to efforts to stabilize the country.  Work in this area is long overdue, and I am very hopeful that the Missouri National Guard’s success will be used as a model for other agribusiness development teams throughout the country.  Our NATO allies, such as Britain and Canada, should also be involved,” said Skelton. 

   Agriculture accounts for 45 percent of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product and employs over 70 percent of the Afghan population. But decades of war and neglect have devastated the country’s agricultural sector and the current level of U.S. government civilian support has been unable to keep pace with the tremendous need for assistance in this area. 

   Missouri National Guard personnel with agricultural and business development expertise, as well as other essential skills, will form the 48-person Afghanistan Agribusiness Development Team.  Members of the team are scheduled to go to Afghanistan this fall, with the full team deployed by early 2008.  U.S. military personnel and local Afghan leaders have worked together to identify potential projects for the team, which include water management, improvements to feed mills, soil enhancement, crop cultivation, and business concepts for delivering and marketing goods. 

   The Guard’s agribusiness specialists bring unique skills and capabilities to this project, but they will also be able to collaborate with experts based in the U.S. by using the internet, voice communications, and virtual satellite technology.  The University of Missouri has already committed to supporting the agricultural academics working with the Missouri National Guard Agribusiness Development Team. The Agribusiness Development Team is also partnered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and other agencies to ensure a maximum use of resources, efficient coordination, and to avoid project duplication.

   “Our national security and Afghanistan’s future are at stake, and I applaud the Missouri National Guard for its contributions to this critical mission.  It is heartening to know that our neighbors – members of the Guard, as well as experts at the University of Missouri, University Extension, and the Missouri Farm Bureau – will be working together to help farmers and their families on the other side of the world,” said Skelton.